Right Wing Watch newsletter: The Frackers Return

As the energy security crisis deepened, Nigel Farage took to his podcast to promote his new campaign for a referendum on Net Zero targets.

This week I looked at the launch of Nigel Farage’s new campaign for a referendum on the Government’s Net Zero targets, which was dealt a blow when his first event was cancelled by the venue. I also covered the split in the Tory party in attitudes towards fossil fuel production, and in particular fracking.

Fracking is a wedge issue for Tories because while some MPs are committed to a free market fundamentalist approach to fossil fuel production, many younger Tories (like those in the Conservative Environment Network) take a more conservationist approach to fracking, and understandably believe that renewables are a better long term solution to energy security.

Disaster Capitalism

It seems like we’ve very much entered a ‘Shock Doctrine’ phase of economic discourse in the UK, to borrow the title of Naomi Klein’s 2007 book. Klein laid out the idea that crises are often used to institute questionable economic policies when many people are too distracted by other issues to protest.

“Good evening, I’m broadcasting remotely tonight from Barcelona for reasons I won’t go into,” Nigel Farage began his podcast on Tuesday. “I’ve become increasingly vexed about the government’s energy strategy. You see we import 50% of the natural gas that we need, and we need it particularly when the wind turbines don’t blow. In fact the more wind turbines we build, the more gas we ultimately need!”

Ok then Nigel. I notice, listening to a couple of episodes of Farage’s podcast, that he never, ever provides any evidence to back up his pro-fossil fuel claims, some of which are directly contradictory.

“British and Scottish governments just don’t give Shell, BP, any of these companies any encouragement to continue in the North Sea.” The Guardian reported in 2021 that “The government has paid £3.2bn of public money to North Sea oil and gas companies since it signed up to the Paris climate agreement in 2015.”

“Of course I am not against renewable energies in any way, shape or form! It’s the subsidies that give me the headache”, Farage went on to say, seeming to suggest that fossil fuel companies should be subsidised, but that renewables should not.

“I’m asking tough questions about it because I just feel we’ve not really had a proper debate about the whole thing”, Farage says. Ah yes, the ‘just asking questions’ defence. It’s similar to the other defence of terrible views used by right wing politicians, which is to put them into someone else’s mouth, as Enoch Powell did in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. 

“Pam says ‘yes, start fracking. Putin and his cohorts are probably behind the anti-fracking demos here, so don’t buy Russian gas or oil.’ Pam, this is really interesting, but increasing evidence that the huge campaign that took place in this country to tell us that we should not produce onshore gas – increasing evidence that much of this was Russian funded. Hey, it makes sense, doesn’t it, if you’re Russia.”

Farage is well known for declaring his admiration for Putin, so to use an anonymous caller to propose the conspiracy theory that environmental campaigns are ‘Russian funded’ is really quite incredible.

The question will be whether all this pro-fracking pressure will dent public opinion, which has been solidly against it up to December 2021, according to YouGov.

The politicisation of environmentalism

Neil Carter, in The Party Politicisation of the Environment in Britain (2006), found that “the party politicisation of the environment in Britain is limited”, constrained by the issue cutting across party lines and the limitations of the electoral system.

Carter was right about the development of environmental policies, saying “the most likely response of each party would be to… resist turning the environment into an arena of party competition. Each party will accommodate environmental concerns by adopting a greener rhetoric and developing a set of moderate policies to demonstrate that the environment would be safe in their hands.” 

“With crowded political agendas dominated by traditional materialist issues, such as the economy, taxation and welfare, political elites are more likely to treat a ‘new’ issue such as the environment seriously (and allocate it significant resources) if it becomes the subject of intense partisan rivalry.”

Polarisation may actually help push environmental issues up the political agenda, but this would probably require the Labour Party to fully commit to support for a Green New Deal.

Because environmental policies have often been seen as detrimental to economic growth and immediate material concerns, there has been reluctance to embrace them fully. Now, however, with energy prices rising massively, we must ask whether the UK can afford not to embrace renewable energy development.

Changing the Narrative

I’m starting to get a bit frustrated that we are spending so much time refuting the Right’s obsession with fossil fuel production that we’re unable to propose the obvious solution to the energy security crisis, which is to massively invest in renewables.

The Government has set a target for 100% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2035, but this is clearly not ambitious enough. Energy security is too important to be left to the whims of the market, and the tiny amount of money the Government directly invests in green infrastructure should be massively increased.

This is not a normal situation. Energy production is now a key part of an ongoing conflict between Western states and Russia, and policy should be mobilised to meet this challenge like it was to meet the challenge of Covid-19.

The speed of wind power production is moving in the right direction. S&P Global reported that “S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts renewables plus nuclear will account for 56% of UK power demand in 2026, with wind output set to double from current levels to 131 TWh/year.”

There is no reason beyond an ideological aversion to market intervention why the UK cannot move faster in producing more renewables. Those who are obsessed with a return to oil and gas are living in the past. Local communities who live near fracking sites will not stand for the destruction of their local environment.

It’s time we shouted as loudly for renewables as the Right wing shout for the value of their fossil fuel investments.

John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward

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